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‘We’ve got to stop this behavior,’ says lawmaker sponsoring bill to punish disruptive spectators at youth sports

As a part-time sports official, Rep. John Huot (DFL-Rosemount) knows that having a thick skin is part of the job.

He’s fine with getting booed by fans unhappy with the calls he makes.

But he’s not OK with what’s happening more frequently: officials facing ugly, raw vulgarities, nasty racial epithets, angry in-your-face confrontations, and even physical assault from extremely agitated fans.

“We’ve got to stop this behavior,” he said.

He sponsors HF33, which, to be amended, would expand the powers of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission to include imposing civil penalties on individuals who disrupt or interfere with a youth athletic activity.

The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill 18-0 Tuesday and sent it to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee. A missed filing deadline resulted in the amendment not being put on by the public safety committee, although that was the discussion focus. The amendment is expected to be officially added by the judiciary group.

Individuals would be subject to a fine if they intentionally enter the field of play or cause any object to enter the field of play if the action disrupts a youth athletic event, or if they assault or physically interfere with the likes of umpires, referees, linespersons, timers, scorekeepers, game organizers, players, or coaches.

Huot is still considering what the maximum fine would be, but said $1,000 would be about right.

The bill would require the Minnesota State High School League and any school board to report to the commission when banning an individual for assaulting a sports official. Sports officials, game organizers, coaches, or school principals could report other violations.

Collecting that kind of data would be very important to address these types of problems, said Roger Aronson, attorney for the Minnesota State High School League. He said these types of incidents are probably highly underreported.

“For every one incident we know about, there’s 20 we don’t,” he said.

Quantifying how often this bad behavior occurs is important in the effort to change the minds of those who still don’t think this a big deal, he said.

The topic of the bill resonates with Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope), who said his daughter no longer referees games due to the nasty treatment she received from “bad-behaving parents.”

“This is a good bill to help deal with accountability and to help create a better environment for our kids and for our students,” he said.

Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) sponsors the companion, SF108, which awaits action by the Senate Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

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